Community pushback gets school board to rescind decision on denying gay actor’s visit

Hundreds of Cumberland Valley community members gathered at the Cumberland Valley High School in Mechnaicsburg on Wed Apr 24, 2024 after school board canceled Maulik Pancholy's anti-bullying speech. (Photo: Sean Kitchen)

By Sean Kitchen

April 25, 2024

Cumberland Valley School Board offered a public apology and voted to reinstate Maulik Pancholy as a guest speaker a week after the board voted to ban him over his sexuality and anti-bullying advocacy.

Former 30 Rock actor Maulik Pancholy became the latest culture-war flashpoint after Cumberland Valley School Board members voted 8 to 0 last week to cancel Pancholy’s anti-bullying speech at a district middle school because of his sexuality and anti-racism advocacy.

The board received national attention over the past week and held an emergency meeting on Wednesday to offer a public apology and reverse their original decision after receiving pushback from the suburban Harrisburg community.

“For those of us present and or watching this evening, please know that I may appear to be one of the most quiet board members on this board,” Mike Gossert told the packed auditorium. “I have not been quiet through this unforced error that has caused a stain on our community. I want you to know that I will work and not relax until that stain is removed.”

Cumberland Valley’s school board voted 5 to 4 on Wednesday to rescind their original decision, making it just the latest example of students, parents and community members pushing back against extremist anti-LGBTQ organizations such as Moms for Liberty.

Hundreds of parents, students and community members packed Cumberland Valley High School’s auditorium in Mechanicsburg for the school board meeting that lasted over four hours.

“I’m an alumni of Cumberland Valley and I’m gay,” Jamie Coyne said during public comment. “It was actually at Good Hope, which is now Mountain View, when I realized that I was gay for the first time. As a kid, I was not exposed to queerness. This lack of representation caused me to feel alone and terrified of my identity.”

“According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ young people are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide than their peers. Additionally, the Trevor Project estimates that more than 1.8 million LGBTQ+ young people ages 13 to 24 seriously consider suicide each year in the US,” Coyne added.

The ire directed at the all-Republican school board came from both Democrats and Republicans alike.

Dr. Mike Verber, a Camp Hill area dentist and Republican, mentioned how last week’s vote will hurt the school district’s reputation for years to come.

“As a school board, I think the number one job is to recruit, retain and inspire educators,” Verber said. “We have damaged that forever. Every applicant, forever, will Google us and see this.”

“I got more involved in politics starting CV Cures because I unfortunately saw this coming. I saw a great superintendent be run off because, in part, he was an Indian American, he felt he could not work for bigotry. I think what we are seeing here is a little bit of the dog catching the car. I hope this energy is there on Election Day.”

Author

  • Sean Kitchen

    Sean Kitchen is the Keystone’s political correspondent, based in Harrisburg. Sean is originally from Philadelphia and spent five years working as a writer and researcher for Pennsylvania Spotlight.

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