School Board Cancels Gay Actor’s Anti-Bullying Talk Over His ‘Lifestyle’

A Pennsylvania school board canceled an anti-bullying speech by the actor Maulik Pancholy, who is gay, after board members raised concerns about his “lifestyle,” prompting outrage from the surrounding community.

The Cumberland Valley School District school board voted unanimously to pass a motion to cancel Mr. Pancholy’s speaking event next month at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg, a community of about 9,000 people roughly 100 miles west of Philadelphia.

The board drew criticism after the members voiced what some called homophobic concerns about Mr. Pancholy’s activism and his lifestyle.

Mr. Pancholy played the obsequious assistant to Alec Baldwin’s character on the TV show “30 Rock” and voiced Baljeet in the cartoon “Phineas and Ferb.” He is also an author who has written children’s books, including one called “The Best At It,” about a gay Indian American boy named Rahul and his experience dealing with bullying in a small Midwest town.

“He labels himself as an activist who is proud of his lifestyle and I don’t think that should be imposed on our students,” said Bud Shaffner, a board member at the Monday evening meeting.

Kelly Potteiger, a newly elected board member and a member of the local chapter of the right-wing activist group Moms for Liberty, voiced concerns that Mr. Pancholy would discuss his children’s books, which deal with the bullying faced by its L.G.B.T.Q. characters, or his own experience with “anti-bullying and empathy and inclusion.”

“Again, it’s not discriminating against his lifestyle, that’s his choice, but it’s him speaking about it,” Ms. Potteiger said. “He did say that that’s not the topic, but that’s what his books are about.”

Mr. Pancholy did not immediately respond to messages sent Wednesday evening.

The cancellation prompted a petition to reinstate the event that stated that the decision was made “solely because he is openly gay.”

Trisha Comstock, who has two sons enrolled in the school district, started the online petition. By late Wednesday evening, the petition had gotten more than 1,000 signatures.

In a phone interview, Mr. Shaffner said his comment was misconstrued and that his remark about Mr. Pancholy’s lifestyle had to do with his activism.

“The fact that is a self-proclaimed political activist is what we object to,” Mr. Shaffner said.

On his website, Mr. Pancholy calls himself an “activist” who works on social justice causes. But Mr. Shaffner and other board members cast his work as political and said they worried his speech could violate a district policy barring political events.

“There is no political agenda,” Ms. Comstock said in a phone interview. “He is not trying to pass policies or change minds or anything like that.

“They cloaked it as ‘We want to keep politics out of school’ when they clearly knew it had nothing to do with politics,” she added.

Ms. Comstock said that if the policy were applied more broadly, other groups, such as “Mothers Against Drunk Driving,” would be considered activists.

“Would we ban them from coming and talking to our members?” she said.

It wasn’t immediately clear how the speaking event came about or if the board’s view reflected that of the school administration.

The Mountain View Middle School principal did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Ms. Comstock, whose children once attended the school, said the board’s decision was not representative of the community.

“And that’s why our community is outraged right now,” she said. “This isn’t who we are.”

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