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Student-led call-in campaign results in charges dropped for trans activist

By staff

Person wearing a black track suit holds sign saying "All 3 assault charges dropped" appears in front of a trans flag background.

Wadsworth, OH – On October 23 and 24, dozens of people organized themselves to “phone zap” the county court and prosecutors of Wadsworth to demand that all bogus charges against Leif Autzen be dropped. They called the office non-stop to voice their anger. Within 48 hours of the beginning of the zap, all felony charges against Autzen were dropped and he no longer faced jail time.

On March 11, Autzen was unjustly arrested and charged with assault after he was attacked by a right-wing extremist while escorting attendees at the Wadsworth Drag Story Time.

In line with a series of anti-trans bills and vicious right-wing demonstrations against drag shows, neo-nazis and similar groups protested and threatened the Story Time. Autzen stepped up to protect attendees. While escorting a party of children and disabled people, Autzen was struck with a megaphone by a man in medieval armor. Autzen, fearing for his life and the lives of the attendees, pepper-sprayed his assailant and was promptly arrested by Wadsworth police. He was subsequently charged with three counts of assault, despite Ohio law giving Autzen the explicit right to defend himself, even with deadly force, in this situation.

As the trial approached, prosecutors and police made it clear that they intended to make this a show trial. Police admitted to deleting all body camera footage of the event and the prosecution moved for the court to forbid witnesses from testifying on Autzen’s behalf. If found guilty in this show trial, Autzen would have faced years in prison and a torturous process of forced de-transition if incarcerated. This mockery of a trial would threaten to blatantly violate the rights of a trans activist to self-defense and gender-affirming healthcare.

The trial caught the attention of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) due to Autzen’s campaign to bring attention to his unfair prosecution. SDS took up Autzen’s cause at their national convention on October 15 with a resolution which read “SDS upholds the democratic rights of the people to self expression, to self defense in the face of bigoted violence, and to freedom of gender expression and opposes far-right violence of all kinds”. It resolved to “demand that all charges against Lief Autzen be dropped by police and prosecutors” and to fight for this demand by “joining a day of action on Lief’s behalf.” This resolution was adopted with a standing ovation and chants of “Drop the charges, now!” in the packed hall.

Following through on their promise, students from around the country organized a call-in campaign, which lasted the entire day before Autzen’s trial. They called constantly in order to show the court and prosecution that a student movement was fighting and scrutinizing them. The first day, after hours of calling, a felony assault charge was dropped. Seeing this effect, the SDS organized a redoubled effort to begin the very next day, the day of the trial. Students from around the country called into the courthouse to “demand that all charges against Leif Autzen be dropped” and called his trial “illegal political repression.” Before noon, all felony charges were dropped! Autzen pled to two remaining trumped-up misdemeanors.

According to Autzen, he was “informed that a vulnerable child witness was being coerced to give false testimony by the prosecution” so he “opted for a plea deal to protect the child from trauma and scrutiny” given that none of the misdemeanors carry the possibility of jail time.

This is a great victory for the LGBTQ liberation movement, the student movement, and for the solidarity between these forces against right-wing political repression and extremist violence.

The sentencing for these absurd charges will be December 6 at 10:30 a.m. Eastern and all concerned people should look out for the call to action by SDS to demand minimum sentencing.

#WadsworthOH #SDS #TransLiberation