Matthew Maisano says the show with Balena Canto will go on, despite any opposition to the drag queen reading children's books at libraries, because the message is too important.
The 29-year-old Delaware County resident will transform into his queen persona to read at Drag Queen Story Hour Saturday at 10:30 a.m. at the Haverford Township Free Library, then again at 4 p.m. Friday, June 28, at the Middletown library.
"I love this like a vocation - to be able to teach children about diversity, self-acceptance, self-love," he explained.
Maisano, a trained opera singer who also studied education, began performing as Balena Canto two years ago when his friend asked him to participate in a gender-bend opera program in Philadelphia.
He created Balena as a way to combine several loves.
"Whales are my favorite animals," he said, adding that he and his mom have gone about 20 times. "I'm obsessed with whale watching. Specifically humpback whales, they sing."
And, in Italian, "balena" means whale and "canto" means "singing or song." So, Maisano, an Italian American, said the name was a play on that and on "bel canto," which is an Italian style of operatic singing, meaning "beautiful singing" in that language.
By day, Maisano works at the Penn Wynne Library, and had worked at the Haverford library for three years. So, when a friend from Annapolis, Md., asked him to participate in Drag Queen Story Hour there, Balena came to the rescue.
Since then, she's appeared at about five others, where she'll read two to three books, then sing some songs with movement, and then do a craft afterwards such as making crowns, tiaras and wands. At the end, there's a time for meet and greet, if the families want to take pictures.
The program is designed and intended for 3- to 8-year-olds, although Maisano said all ages are welcome.
He aid the only differences between Drag Queen Story Hour and others is that the books and activities have themes surrounding acceptance and diversity and often feature gender non-conforming or a LGBTQ character, and that the reading and activity is led by a drag queen.
"The main purpose of this is for kids to be exposed to a positive LGBT role model, something they may not have in their lives," he said. "This is especially vital for youth who are LGBTQ themselves."
Maisano said Balena will carry on with her message of acceptance and creativity.
"No matter the protests and backlash, I will continue to do this work no matter how much DQST or I personally am attacked," he said. "The work is too vital ... My goal is to show our youngest generations that they can create a world full of love and acceptance instead of hate and bigotry."
He recalled a previous story time Balena held and a mother and child came up to him after the event. She told him that her child was in love with a specific drag queen on television but they didn't have the opportunity to interact with real-life drag queens.
About their chance to meet Balena, Maisano said, "They were ecstatic about that."
He said Drag Queen Story Hours are important, especially for LGBT youth.
"I'm so happy that it's becoming more and more popular despite the opposition," he said. "I think there's more people for it than against it ... Even if the negativity seems to be really loud, I think the majority of people are seeing how invaluable it is."