Openly Gay Actor Subtly Skewers School Board That Nixed Talk Due to His ‘Lifestyle’

Getty Images/Andrew Walker
Getty Images/Andrew Walker

The author and 30 Rock actor Maulik Pancholy, an openly gay man, has spoken out after a Pennsylvania school board voted unanimously to cancel a scheduled talk at a local middle school because of his “lifestyle.”

Pancholy said he learned of the Cumberland Valley School Board’s now-viral decision through social media himself, adding that he hopes the district’s students from underrepresented groups know they’re loved and accepted.

“When I talk about the characters in my books feeling ‘different,’ I’m always surprised by how many young people raise their hands—regardless of their identities and backgrounds—wanting to share about the ways in which they, too, feel different,” Pancholy said in a statement to The Daily Beast, which he also read in an Instagram clip. “That’s the power of books. They build empathy.

“I wonder why a school board is so afraid of that?”

Pancholy was slated to talk about empathy, anti-bullying, and the books he authored. That plan was thwarted during an April 15 public meeting, however, when two board members raised concern over his “lifestyle” and “activism,” suggesting he had an ulterior motive beyond encouraging kids to love who they are.

During the meeting, one board member reportedly said in part, “He is proud of his lifestyle, and I don’t think that should be imposed on our students.”

The board’s vote, 8-0, has grabbed national headlines and school officials have been labeled homophobic for their blatant attempt to shield pre-teens from Pancholy, who’s authored a pair of popular books about life as a middle schooler.

Parents have called for the decision to be reversed, with a petition garnering 3,600 signatures by Thursday evening. Trisha Comstock, the petition’s organizer, said she was “deeply saddened” and “concerned” by the board’s decision. She told The Daily Beast in a statement the “decision needs to be reversed.”

In an interview with Today, Comstock said what happened was “homophobic” and was “causing some real harm.”

Cumberland Valley’s school district encompasses a portion of rural and suburban central Pennsylvania—an area that’s much more conservative than the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia metro areas.

Parent Fumes After School Board Nixes Gay Actor’s Talk Due to His ‘Lifestyle’

The school district did not return a request for comment from The Daily Beast.

Pancholy appears to be taking the high road for his part in the controversy, suggesting that those harmed the most are the district’s most vulnerable children.

“As a middle schooler, I never saw myself represented in the stories around me,” he said in a statement. “I couldn’t find books that featured South Asian-American or LGBTQ + characters. They didn’t exist.

“And when I set out to write my own novels so many years later, I was still hard-pressed to find those stories. It’s why I wrote my books in the first place. Because representation matters.”

Read more at The Daily Beast.

Get the Daily Beast's biggest scoops and scandals delivered right to your inbox. Sign up now.

Stay informed and gain unlimited access to the Daily Beast's unmatched reporting. Subscribe now.