Boston bombing survivors, gay pro athlete to sit in First Lady’s box

michelle-obama

(CNN) — Survivors of two 2013 disasters — both natural and made-made — will be honored guests at Tuesday’s State of the Union address alongside Jason Collins, the former NBA center who in 2013 became the first openly gay male athlete in one of the four major American pro leagues.

Invitees to the First Lady’s box at the annual address to Congress are usually chosen either for their bravery — last year’s included a Medal of Honor winner — or to illustrate a policy the President is advocating during his time in front of the cameras. In 2012 Obama invited Warren Buffett’s secretary to help push raising taxes for wealthy Americans.

The White House said on Monday it was inviting two survivors of last year’s Boston Marathon bombings — Carlos Arredondo and Jeff Bauman — to the 2014 speech. The pair were featured in a now-iconic photo of the tragedy: Arredondo, wearing a white cowboy hat, rushed the the aide of Bauman after the blasts near the marathon’s finish line. Bauman later helped identify the brothers accused of planting the bombs, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev.

Obama, who spoke the afternoon after the bombing took place, later traveled to Boston to attend a memorial service for the attack’s three victims.

The White House said Monday it had also invited Moore, Oklahoma’s fire chief, Gary Bird, to the State of the Union speech. Moore was the site of a massive tornado in May that left 25 people dead as it tore through town. Bird led a team of search-and-rescuers that pulled survivors from the wreckage.

As he did after the Boston terror attack, Obama visited Moore in the days after the tornado swept through to tour damage and meet survivors.

Collins made history in April when he came out as gay in a “Sports Illustrated” column.

Previously, no active male player in a major American sport had said he was gay. Obama called Collins on the week of the announcement and told reporters at the end of a press conference he was “very proud” of the player.

“I think America should be proud that this is just one more step in this ongoing recognition that we treat everybody fairly, and everybody’s part of a family, and we judge people on the basis of their character and their performance, and not their sexual orientation,” Obama said.

Other guests will include Kathy Hollowell-Makle, named Washington, D.C.’s teacher of the year, and Joey Hudy, who first met Obama at a White House science fair where he was showing a marshmallow cannon.

By Kevin Liptak