A transgender woman enjoying her meal at The Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco’s Union Square was faced with an anti-trans rant from a fellow diner, and she caught it all on a TikTok livestream.
Lilly Contino is a full-time content creator living in San Francisco. She was dining at the Union Square Cheesecake Factory on Geary Street on March 9 when she began live streaming to her TikTok followers.
“Everything was pretty normal until a woman with a walker entered the restaurant. She sat down a couple of tables nearby, definitely within earshot, no more than 5-10 feet from me,” Contino told KTLA sister station, KRON.
At first, the interaction seemed innocuous; the woman told Contino several jokes before offering to show off a scar on her stomach from a recent surgery. When Contino refused to take a look, the woman said, “I’ll show you if I want to show you, son.”
When Contino heard the pointed misgendering, she said she knew the situation might escalate. Not long after, the woman’s voice can be heard saying “You know I’m a TERF right?”
TERF stands for trans-exclusionary radical feminist. The word is shorthand for someone who has hostile views toward transgender people.
The woman could be heard on the video apparently threatening Contino, warning her, “I hit. I hit hard.”
Contino said she didn’t think the woman, who was using a walker, would likely attack her physically, but knew that if she responded aggressively the incident could get worse.
“At the same time, I’m not gonna roll over. So when she threatened to hurt me, I meant it when I said, ‘I would like to see you try,'” Contino said.
The woman, who said she is 75 years old, can be heard in the video swearing and threatening Contino. Minutes went by, and no one intervened.
“I think it was the bystander effect honestly … No one tried to protect me … I saw people looking. They could have stood up and said ‘Hey this isn’t okay. You need to stop, you need to leave. You need to go now. You are not welcome here,'” Contino said.
When Contino asked a waiter to get the manager, the older woman stood up and left the restaurant. Eventually, a store manager apologized to Contino and paid for the cost of her meal due to the incident. She says this isn’t enough.
“I would love to hear from The Cheesecake Factory. I would love an apology. I would love to hear how they are going to make sure it never happens again because clearly their staff is not well equipped to deal with these kinds of situations,” she said.
When asked how this incident is impacting her sense of safety, Contino didn’t mince words. She moved to San Francisco from Georgia in part to feel safer in her community, she says, and has now faced prejudicial treatment in the heart of the city.
“Trans people are an at-risk population. I happen to be 6-foot, I happen to be pretty athletic and strong, but there’s a lot of people out there who want to hurt us, and it is something you carry around with you all the time,” she says.
Contino described how anti-trans legislation has grown across the country, including two bills in Tennessee that ban gender-affirming care for minors as well as drag shows. She says the overarching impact this culture can have on transgender people is huge, and companies need to take a stance.
“Every day that this happens, companies need to take note and figure out how they are going to deal with the rising tide of transphobia in the country because it’s happening,” Contino said. “And it’s happening in public in restaurants, so what are you gonna do about it? You gotta do something.”
When KRON reached out to The Cheesecake Factory for comment on the incident, the company shared the following statement.
“No guest should ever be made to feel unwelcomed in one of our restaurants, and we are sorry to hear of this incident,” said Spero G. Alex, Senior Vice President of Operations