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Scott: Transgender guidance resembles 'blackmail'

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Gov. Rick Scott issued his harshest comments yet about the federal government's guidance on how public schools should treat transgender students, but stopped short of saying whether his administration would enter the fray against the Obama administration's controversial initiative.

Talking to reporters in Orlando during an event focused on higher education, Scott declined to directly answer whether he would push for Florida to join 11 other states that filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the guidance, which calls for students to be allowed to use restrooms and other facilities consistent with their gender identity rather than their sex at birth.

"To me, it looks like just blackmail," Scott said, referring to a threat that schools not following the initiative could lose federal funding. "The federal government takes our tax dollars -- because, remember, all their tax dollars are money that comes from our citizens all around this country -- and then they give that back to us, and then they change the deal. And they say, 'Oh, now we're going to hold this money back from you.' "

A letter earlier this month from the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Justice outlining the interpretation of federal laws barring sex discrimination in education does not itself have the force of law.

But the interpretation could be used to find schools in violation of those anti-discrimination laws, commonly called Title IX.

Scott said some possible consequences of the guidance are "concerning," but he said his administration is still reviewing the matter.

Advocates on both sides of the transgender student debate argue that safety is an issue, with critics of the Obama administration saying the guidance could lead to a breakdown in school discipline or even attacks.

But LGBT advocates say forcing students to use restrooms corresponding with their sex at birth could also cause problems.