A transgender woman in California minded her business while eating at a restaurant when a fellow customer began harassing her for being trans. The ordeal, captured on the victim’s TikTok livestream, left her shaken, but she has received an outpouring of support from users, including celebrities.
Lilly Contino and her dog Howard were at a San Francisco Cheesecake Factory on Thursday, just enjoying a day documenting themselves in the world.
The 30-year-old full-time content creator tells The Advocate that the Cheesecake Factory is one of her favorite establishments, and she frequents it often — her go-to meal is a chicken caesar salad with fries, which she calls a French caesar salad.
She said she had just given a talk on gender dysphoria on LinkedIn and was going on with the schedule she had set out to stick to that day, which included lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.
As she ate, she was streaming to her followers on TikTok, as she generally does for long periods of the day to interact with those who come to see what’s going on in her life.
A self-identified TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) threatened me at the @cheesecake factory. I happened to be streaming at the time and caught the encounter on camera. This happened at the Union Square location in San francisco
Suddenly an older woman using a walker to ambulate began directing her unwanted attention at Contino.
“You know I’m a TERF, right?” the woman asks off-camera. “Would you like me to move somewhere else?”
Contino, between bites of food, tells the woman she’s fine where she is.
“You should tell me more about being a TERF,” she replies to the woman.
“You’re a boy, right?” the woman interjects. “Don’t f*ck with me, ’cause, honestly, I hit. I hit hard,” she threatens.
Contino replies, “I’d like to see you try.”
“Take your stupid dog. Eat your f**king food, and get the f*ck outta my life,” the seemingly intoxicated woman says, apropos of nothing.
“Because otherwise, I’ll have to label you as a white racist for a 70-year-old minority woman,” the belligerent woman continued before the video cut to Contino asking a waitstaff member to speak with the manager.
TERF is an acronym for trans-exclusionary radical feminist, but the term is also used by many people who just oppose the existence of transgender people and their rights.
Contino tells The Advocate that she was taken aback by the entire interaction. She says that while she’s had people say untoward things to her online, she’s never experienced this type of harassment in public.
She explained that she had gotten to the restaurant and ordered when the woman sat nearby.
“She brought in a two-liter bottle of ginger ale and took a seat,” Contino said. “Then, unprompted, she started talking about receding hairlines.”
The woman then asked if they wanted to see her surgery scars, which made Contino uncomfortable, and she started to chuckle nervously. “That’s when things changed, and the woman started berating me,” she said.
She said the restaurant comped her meal after she spoke with the general manager.
This experience has made her more aware of the rising voices of bigotry and how it affects her in everyday life.
She discussed how being trans is just one part of her and how she has experienced subtle harassment and discrimination.
She also noted that her friends and family have become educated on what it means to be trans due to her coming-out and how terrifying it is to see governments legislate her experience into nonexistence.
Contino said the right wing’s war on “wokeism” has permitted people to act uncivilly. The narrative of trans people being criminals and groomers has encouraged people to act in hostile ways, she added.
The video of her interaction with the foul-mouthed crusader has been watched more than 10 million times on TikTok.
Comedian Kathy Griffin saw the video and lent Contino her support. “I’m so sorry,” Griffin wrote. “I’ve been there [with] someone in a restaurant going off on you. This is so f-Ed up.”
Contino said it’s because she lives in San Francisco, where one wouldn’t expect this bigotry to exist in the open, but the incident left a mark on her.
“I used to live in Atlanta, which is liberal for the South, but I wouldn’t live anywhere other than San Francisco or a similarly liberal city,” she says. “For this to have happened here definitely changes things for me," she said.