Oklahoma could lose out on millions of dollars if transgender sports ban passes

TULSA, Okla. — Oklahoma’s economy could potentially lose millions of dollars if state lawmakers pass Senate Bill 2 “The Save Women’s Sports Act” that would keep transgender girls from competing on girls’ sports teams at the high school and college levels.

Organizations like the NCAA have threatened to move tournaments to states without this type of legislation to cities in states where they say all athletes will feel safe and protected.

Mack Beggs was born a girl named Mackenzie and told FOX23 he started transitioning to a boy in junior high socially, then physically in high school.

To compete on his high school wrestling team in Texas, Beggs says he was required to be on the girls’ team to coincide with his biological sex at birth.

“I always questioned, ‘why can’t I compete on a guy’s team? Why can’t I do that?’” Beggs said in an interview with FOX23.

“I couldn’t understand why and so I just always had to settle with competing against females.”

Beggs says he worked with his doctor to ensure his hormone levels were still in a comparable range to his cisgender or biological girl teammates and opponents. He says he never felt he had an advantage over the girls and says there were times when he would win wrestling matches against girls and other times when girls would beat him.

Oklahoma lawmakers who support SB2 believe it will help ensure no athlete has an advantage if they transition from one sex to another, specifically from boy to girl.

The legislation would require school teams to be designated by biological sex as male, female or co-ed/mixed.

Parents and guardians would be required to sign an affidavit acknowledging the biological sex of the student-athlete at birth. The legislation as drafted also states that athletic teams designated for women shall not be open to students of the male sex.

Republican State Sen. Nathan Dahm (R-Broken Arrow) is a co-sponsor of the legislation.

“‘Save Women’s Sports’ is about protecting women and girls that want to be able to compete and should be able to compete against other biological women,” Dahm said.

“They shouldn’t be forced to compete against biological men, whether it’s in the possibility of losing scholarships that they could lose to a biological male or whether it’s losing a title or losing a game. If we want to talk about protecting women, we should have that equal playing field.”

Oklahoma is among roughly two dozen states to introduce this type of legislation right now according to the National Center for Transgender Equality.

So far lawmakers in Arizona, Kansas, North Dakota, Utah, South Carolina and New Hampshire failed to pass it. While lawmakers in Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, Montana, West Virginia passed the ban. In South Dakota, the governor issued an executive order to keep biological male athletes from competing on women’s teams.

Idaho was the first state in the nation to ban transgender girls from participating in women’s sports last year. That case is now being considered by a three-judge panel in a federal appeals court to determine whether it’s unconstitutional.

Oklahomans for Equality Executive Director Toby Jenkins told FOX23 the organization is helping 13 families right now relocate to other states where their transgender child will feel more love, acceptance and be treated equally. In response to so many states trying to pass anti-trans legislation the NCAA Board of Governors released the following statement in April:

“The NCAA Board of Governors firmly and unequivocally supports the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports. This commitment is grounded in our values of inclusion and fair competition.

The NCAA has a long-standing policy that provides a more inclusive path for transgender participation in college sports. Our approach — which requires testosterone suppression treatment for transgender women to compete in women’s sports — embraces the evolving science on this issue and is anchored in participation policies of both the International Olympic Committee and the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee. Inclusion and fairness can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport. Our clear expectation as the Association’s top governing body is that all student-athletes will be treated with dignity and respect. We are committed to ensuring that NCAA championships are open for all who earn the right to compete in them.

When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected. We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants. "

The NCAA Women’s College World Series of Softball is set for June in Oklahoma City and is expected to be held there through 2035. The event normally brings in $24 million to the local economy according to the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce.

The Chamber issued the following statement expressing its concerns if Senate Bill 2 passes:

“The Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) established a policy for transgender athlete participation in 2015 to outline eligibility guidelines. In addition, the NCAA’s recent statement supporting transgender athletes amid states contemplating discriminatory legislation will likely have an immediate and substantial impact to Oklahoma and Oklahoma City’s economy. Governing institutions such as the OSSAA and NCAA have a process and best practices in place to ensure fair and equitable competition among student-athletes. These issues have been thoroughly and completely addressed by the governing boards to assure a competitive environment.”

In Tulsa, the BOK Center is set to host the 2023 NCAA Wrestling Championships which is expected to add millions of dollars to Tulsa’s economy. There are Division 2 tournaments being held across the state as well.

Every big event is a big deal according to the Tulsa Regional Chamber of Commerce Tourism President, Ray Hoyt. He talked to FOX23 about a number of events being held in Tulsa this year including the Ironman North American Championship, the Senior PGA Championship and several events surrounding the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

“The economic impact is important because it’s tax dollars to our state and to our community and we live on tax dollars,” Hoyt said.

FOX23 asked Sen. Dahm if he’s concerned about our state possibly losing millions of dollars if events are moved out of Oklahoma if the legislation passes.

“This is not just an Oklahoma thing,” Dahm said.

“They can’t boycott us all. They can try and they can threaten to do that but ultimately, I don’t foresee them doing that.”

The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Athletic Association has a policy in place for transgender students participating in athletic activities. It allows a female-to-male who is not taking testosterone to choose whether to participate on either boys’ or girls’ teams and consistently compete as that gender at the secondary level. If a female-to-male is taking testosterone they may only compete on the boys’ teams. The policy allows a male-to-female who is not taking hormone therapy or has taken it for less than a year to only compete on the boys’ teams. A male-to-female who has taken one year or more of hormone therapy may compete on the girls’ teams.

You can read the full OSSAA policy here, specifically the transgender athlete portion on page 36.

FOX23 contacted the larger school districts in the area including Tulsa Public Schools, Broken Arrow Public Schools, Union Public Schools, Owasso Public Schools and Jenks Public Schools to see if they had any transgender student-athletes.

Four of the districts said they did not have any transgender student-athletes at this time. The one district that confirmed they do have one transgender student-athlete stated they are following OSSAA guidelines. The district did not want to identify the sport nor the student to maintain that student’s privacy.

As for Mack Beggs, he got to join the men’s wrestling team when he arrived at Life University in Georgia.

He’s now an advocate for other transgender athletes and says this type of legislation sends the wrong message.

“You’re basically saying a woman isn’t capable of the things a man can do,” Beggs said.

Sen. Dahm sees it differently.

“Here in Oklahoma, we would say women are women and men are men,” Dahm said.

FOX23 will continue to follow the bill in the state legislature.