Metro Weekly

Maulik Pancholy Responds to School District Canceling Him

"30 Rock" actor and children's author thanked fans for their support after he was disinvited from speaking at a middle school assembly.

Maulik Pancholy — Photo: Todd Franson

Actor and author Maulik Pancholy posted a video to Instagram thanking followers for their expressions of support after a Pennsylvania school board canceled a speech he was scheduled to give as part of an anti-bullying school assembly.

On April 15, the Cumberland Valley School District school board voted unanimously to cancel the assembly, scheduled for May 22 at Mountain View Middle School in Mechanicsburg, a town of 9,000 people just 10 miles west of Harrisburg.

Members of the conservative board claimed that it was Pancholy’s “lifestyle” that led them to cancel the assembly.

They feared Pancholy, who has also written novels for middle school-aged children, would either delve into “political” issues, or might mention homosexuality or LGBTQ identity — either directly or indirectly, by referencing his LGBTQ-themed books — in his speech.

In his Instagram video, Pancholy — who is best known for his roles on 30 Rock, Weeds, and the cartoon series Phineas & Ferb — used his fingers to make an “air quote” gesture on the words “lifestyle” and “activism,” suggesting that the board’s excuses or justifications for scuttling his appearance are not truthful or sincere. 

“On Monday evening, I learned via social media that the school board of the Cumberland Valley School District in Pennsylvania voted 8-0 to cancel my scheduled author visit with the students of Mountain View Middle School due to concerns about my ‘activism’ and what they called my ‘lifestyle,'” Pancholy said. 

“My heart goes out to the entire Mountain View Middle School community, and particularly to the students. Both of my books — The Best At It, a Stonewall Honor Winner, and Nikhil Out Loud, a Lambda Literary Award Winner — are stories that reflect the full, complicated, and wonderful lives of middle school students. 

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

“When I visit schools, my ‘activism’ is to let all young people know that they’re seen. To let them know that they matter. 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 continued. “That’s the power of books. They build empathy. I wonder why a school board is so afraid of that?”

Pancholy said it was “incredibly moving” to see “the outpouring of solidarity, love, and support from the community at Mountain View Middle School” and from the surrounding community, including parents, former students, and faculty.

He noted that some community members have circulated a petition — now with more than 7,000 signatures — calling on the school board to rescind its actions and allow the anti-bullying assembly to take place. 

“I hope that every single student at MVMS is receiving that message of support and love. That you know that regardless of who you are, you belong,” Pancholy concluded. “To each of you: I see you. I appreciate you. You matter. No one can take that away from you.”

See his post below:

Support Metro Weekly’s Journalism

These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!