An awkward and insulting situation that unfolded recently at the Cheesecake Factory in San Francisco's Union Square was caught on a TikTok stream, and the trans woman who filmed it hopes it can be an example for restaurants to learn how to respond better in the moment.
SF resident Lilly Contino moved to the city from Georgia in order to find more safety and community after a relatively recent transition. But she says that while recently dining at The Cheesecake Factory, she had a less than welcoming time, mostly because of an older, possibly drunk woman who came in, sat nearby, and proceeded to harass and misgender her.
The situation was caught on her TikTok livestream — "I'm always streaming," Contino says, "and I was just streaming my meal when this happened."
Bizarrely, after the woman offered to show off a scar from a recent surgery — saying, "I’ll show you if I want to show you, son" — she said, "You know I'm a TERF, right?" TERF is an abbreviation for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, and it's a moniker that's been given to J.K. Rowling and others who assert that feminism and the origins of feminist thought belong only to women who were assigned female at birth.
@lillytino_ A self-identified TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) threatened me at the @cheesecake ♬ original sound - lillytino
The woman gets aggressive, at one point saying, "I hit, and I hit hard," and "Don't judge me for being a TERF." This came after her saying, "You're a boy, right?"
And the incident was apparently over within a few minutes, after Contino called over a manager, and the woman then left of her own accord — apparently before her two mimosas arrived. (In a subsequent video, Contino says the woman was drinking out of a two-liter ginger ale bottle when she arrived, and she can not confirm what the woman may have had in there.)
KRON4 spoke to Contino, who says that no one volunteered to intervene in the situation.
"I think it was the bystander effect honestly," Contino says. "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.'"
Eventually, after the woman left, a Cheesecake Factory manager comped Contino's meal. And the company issued a statement saying, "No guest should ever be made to feel unwelcomed in one of our restaurants, and we are sorry to hear of this incident."
Contino tells KRON4, "I would love to hear from The Cheesecake Factory... 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 adds, "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."
The situation is reminiscent of one that occurred at a Bay Area In-N-Out restaurant around Christmastime. In that situation, two friends, who are Asian American, were live-streaming their meal when a man launched into a strange racist and homophobic rant — and he proceeded to linger outside the restaurant, apparently waiting for them to come out. That man, who was from Colorado and in the area visiting family over the holidays, was later arrested and charged with a hate crime.