Actress Kathy Najimy has never been one to stay silent. Known for Sister Act,Hocus Pocus, Veep, and an off-Broadway show with Mo Gaffney, Najimy also has a long history of advocacy; something not always popular in Hollywood.
"People say, 'Aren't you afraid being so loud and opinionated will ruin your career?'," she says. "I care more about the things I care about. I will not be silent. There are a lot of people who don't want to work with me because I have a point of view."
Najimy became involved in HIV advocacy in the early 1980s when Theatre Rhinoceros, a San Francisco-based LGBT theater company, did a production at her college campus. The performance deeply resonated with her.
"The realization [of HIV] started then, and it was devastating," she says. "I had friends dying every week. When [Gaffney] and I arrived in New York City around '84 or '85, the good thing was that at least AIDS was being talked about. Like the marches we have now against the current administration, we had groups and we had GMHC and Larry Kramer and ACT UP and we were directed to a place where we could do some good. It felt great to help, to rally, and do the Kathy and Mo show."
Najimy and Gaffney wrote and starred in two off-Broadway shows, Parallel Lives and The Dark Side, in the late 1980s and early 1990s, tackling, religion, sexism, homophobia, and stereotypes, during a time when women like Lily Tomlin and Whoopi Goldberg were also dominating the stage with activist-driven shows: The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe and Whoopi Goldberg, respectively.
These days, Najimy is taking a larger role producing works with a message, including a play about Gloria Steinem's life -- where Najimy will play pioneering female congresswoman Bella Abzug -- and a series set in a time when abortion is illegal.
On Monday, Gay Men's Health Crisis honors Najimy with the 2017 Howard Ashman Award for her philanthropy and activism.
"Kathy Najimy is a true force of nature as a performer, and she has been an indispensable ally to the LGBT and HIV/AIDS communities for decades," GMHC CEO Kelsey Louie said in a statement.
The night will include performance by Kristen Chenoweth, Lena Hall, Lillias White, David Burtka, and Martha Plimpton. For tickets or to donate to GMHC on behalf of Kathy Najimy, click here.