A group of student rocketeers at a small community college near Los Angeles California called Citrus College have found themselves embroiled in a controversy as a result of a recent law passed by that state designed to punish other states for being less than enlightened about LBGTQ rights. The group, called the Citrus College Rocket Owls, has been invited, along with 60 other student groups, to participate in a rocketry competition at NASA’s Marshall Spaceflight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. However, they have been prohibited from going because of the state law.

The situation has aroused the ire of Homer Hickam, a former NASA engineer made famous by his account of his experiences flying homemade rockets in his childhood West Virginia coal mining town. The controversy has caused a social media firestorm and threatens to give California another black eye.

Virtue signaling as part of state law.

The law in question is AB 1887, which prohibits the use of state funds to travel to a list of states judged to be discriminatory toward the LBGTQ community. Alabama is on the list because it allows faith-based adoption agencies not to place children in same-sex homes.

School athletic teams and educational groups hit hardest

The law has not moved any of the offending states to change the laws that California finds noxious.

However, it has hit school sports teams and educational groups such as the Citrus College Rocket Owls who wish to go to games and educational events in states that are on California’s blacklist. Most such groups have gotten around that law by raising their own travel funds. A number of other student rocketeer groups, including at the University of California at Berkeley, have accomplished this task and will be going to the NASA sponsored competition.

However, even though the Citrus College Group has raised its private travel funds, it is still not going by decree of the school administration.

Dr. Geraldine M. Perri is keeping the Rocket Owls at home

According to Homer Hickam, the problem appears to be the Citrus College Superintendent Geraldine M. Perri, who seems to have gone beyond the letter of the law and is prohibiting the Rocket Owls from attended the competition regardless of the fact they will do so on their own dime.

Perri lacks the power to physically force the Rocket Owls from attending the competition. However, the fear is that if the student group defies her and goes anyway, she will retaliate by expelling them and forbidding any student-run rocketeer group from existing at Citrus College ever again. Such is what some have described is the Stalinist nature of her administration. Ironically, Berkeley, a school often in the news for politically correct zaniness, is being more reasonable.

Hickam, whose bestselling book “Rocket Boys” became a film entitled “October Skies” made him world famous, is undaunted in his championship of the 21st Century version of the group he was part of many decades ago. However, unless pressure can be brought to bear against Dr. Perri, they have a stark choice. They could participate in the competition in California, losing out on networking with other student rocket builders from around the country. Or they can defy Perri, go to the competition, and then fight whatever retaliation comes their way in court, making, making their plight a national cause celebre. The irony is that whatever the intent was to further LBGTQ rights is being overshadowed by the stench of authoritarianism and gross unfairness.