GAY, Ga. - The US Department of Agriculture rejected a Georgia cattle farmer's application for a special interstate transport license because his address contained "a banned word."
What word could be so offensive? Gene King lives in Gay, Georgia.
"No one's got a problem coming to Gay, Georgia," said King. "I don't have a problem living in Gay, Georgia. But the USDA's got a problem with Gay, Georgia."
Gay, Georgia was founded in 1882, incorporated in 1907 and named after William F. Gay. About 100 people live in the community about an hour south of Atlanta. Twice a year they organize a popular festival once referred to as the Gay Fair. Now it's known as the Cotton Pickin Festival.
King admitted to FOX 5 I-Team reporter Randy Travis the name can be confusing in conversation.
"I have gay friends."
"Here in Gay, Georgia?"
"No, not in Gay, Georgia."
"You have gay friends outside of Gay."
"Outside of Gay, yeah."
But no friends of Gay, Georgia in the US Department of Agriculture. Earlier this month, Gene applied for a special ID through the USDA called a Premises Number. That allows him to buy and sell cattle across state lines. He completed the form and called to check on his status.
"She said it's kicking it out saying that's an offensive word and won't accept your application," King said.
What could be so offensive? The holdup, according to a government email about Gene's application: "city contains a banned word."
The USDA emailed back with a work-around. Change Gene's hometown on the application from Gay… to Bay.
"And I said no, I don't want to submit it as Bay, Georgia," King said he told the government worker over the phone. "I want to submit it as Gay, Georgia because that's where I live. And she said do you want a number or not?"
He got his number, and then the USDA manually changed his city back to Gay.
"I said ma'am. This is ridiculous."
In a statement, the USDA said they created a database of words with "bad connotations" because they worried people would try to sabotage an earlier animal ID registration system. That was in 2004. They promise a future upgrade will ensure that "this will no longer be an issue."
The USDA would not provide us with a complete list of those so-called bad words or who decided the word "gay" belonged on that list.
But the tale of this Gay cattle rancher has a happy ending. Gene got his Premises Number and his out-of-state cows. And no matter what the federal government said, they never took his pride.
"My name is Gene King. I live here in Gay, Ga. That's G-A-Y, not B-A-Y."
THE COMPLETE USDA STATEMENT:
The premises identification allocator was originally developed in the early 2000s for the National Animal Identification System, using the technology available at the time. The program was very contentious and IT developers were concerned about the possibility of people attempting to create “bad” premises IDs to prove there was a problem with the program or its IT systems. They created a database of words with bad connotations that would not be allowed in the system.
Since that time, the NAIS program has ended and been replaced by animal disease traceability regulations. The IT architecture was repurposed to meet the new regulations, until the time it could be redesigned to take advantage of newer technology available to validate addresses. After a delay due to intensive efforts to combat highly pathogenic avian influenza this spring, the agency is working to upgrade the technology so this will no longer be an issue.