'It felt like the right thing to do': Minn. Teacher of the Year kneels for national anthem

President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump were present when Kelly Holstine kneeled at the FBS Championship Game between Louisiana State and Clemson.

Kelly Holstine. Courtesy of Education Minnesota

ST PAUL — Minnesota's Teacher of the Year knelt in silent protest during the national anthem at Monday night's college football championship game. President Donald Trump was standing down the field from her.

Kelly Holstine, the director of educational equity for LGBTQ+ advocacy organization OutFront Minnesota, stood alongside fellow teachers of the year, as well as Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, on the Mercedes-Benz Superdome field before Monday, Jan. 13's Football Bowl Subdivision Championship Game in New Orleans.

Later that evening, she tweeted that she decided to kneel as the national anthem opened the game because she was "given platform to stand up for marginalized and oppressed people."

In a Thursday interview with Forum News Service, she said she was nervous as she knelt -- her leg was shaking -- but exercising her First Amendment right "felt like the right thing to do."


"Not everybody is given the opportunity to express their feelings in the way that I was," she said. "I take that responsibility really seriously."

In a recent TedTalk she gave, Holstine said, "It's not enough for educators to just be allies. They need to be advocates, too." Holstine told Forum News Service that to not take her opportunity to advocate on the national stage before Monday's game "would feel really hypocritical of me."

Holstine planned her protest in advance. Early in the morning of the game, she said she sat in her hotel room and wrote down her reasons to kneel.

"I will stand for the flag with my hand over my heart when marginalized and oppressed people feel free; when our educational equity gap is eliminated; when we stop harming people due to their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or gender identity or expression and/or their status as a citizen; when we stop supporting political leaders who are xenophobic, homophobic, racist and trying to take away the rights of women; when we start taking better care of our animals and our environment; and when our country serves the needs of all its inhabitants," she wrote. "Then and only then will I proudly stand for our flag with my hand over my heart."

In her Monday tweet, she added hashtags #blacklivesmatter, #LGBTQ and #imwithkap, referring to former-San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who famously kneeled during the national anthem in 2016.

The NFL in 2018 instituted a policy requiring players to stand for the national anthem. Following the NFL's announcement, Trump praised the policy in a Fox & Friends interview , and criticized players who choose to kneel.

"You have to stand proudly for the national anthem, or you shouldn’t be playing. You shouldn’t be there," Trump said. "Maybe you shouldn’t be in the country."

Holstine said that just because she knelt for the national anthem does not mean she doesn't love the country.


"I do love this country, but we have a lot of growth to do," she said. "Especially in the last two years, the hatred in both actions and words is just...the level that it's at right now is painful. We can do better."

Holstine is the Director of Educational Equity for LGBTQ+ activist organization OutFront Minnesota, and previously taught English at Tokata Learning Center in Shakopee, Minn. She was named the 2018/2019 Minnesota Teacher of the Year by Education Minnesota.

President Donald J. Trump holds his hand over his heart during the national anthem before the College Football Playoff national championship game between the Clemson Tigers and the LSU Tigers at Mercedes-Benz Superdome. Matthew Emmons / USA TODAY Sports

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at or 651-290-0707.
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