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Gay rights icon Harvey Milk said, “I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living.”

More than 40 years after his murder Milk continues to give hope to millions around the world. The Harvey Milk Foundation (HMF) exports his vision of openness and equality to parts of the world still hostile to those very basic ideals.

“We provide support on the ground and behind the scenes for struggling and emerging communities around the world,” HMF’s Education Director Miriam Richter told SFGN.

Milk was a public figure becoming the first openly gay man elected to public office in California, but his foundation puts a lot of effort behind closed doors and out of the public eye.

HMF was founded in 2009 by Milk’s nephew Stuart Milk, who is also a gay man.

“A lot of what we do is ... diplomatic [level] work,” Richter said. That under-the-radar approach lets foreign officials and politicians talk openly with civil rights leaders without the fear of backlash.

The closed-door work honors Harvey’s legacy. Even though he had many public achievements, as an activist and politician much of his work was negotiating in backroom meetings.

“He used to say ‘do it if it’s safe’ while other people work to make it safe. It’s definitely in Harvey’s spirit.”

Milk’s legacy also lives on in very public ways starting with a street.

“The Miami Beach City Commission named a street after Harvey. It’s by the convention center, high visibility right next to Pride Park,” Richter said. “It will be the first street in the state of Florida named after Harvey.”

Construction of the USNS Harvey Milk is underway in San Diego, and will be the first U.S. Navy ship named after a gay man. Milk was forced out of the Navy because he was gay. Ceremonies surrounding the ship’s launch are scheduled for this fall.

Also, Stoli just released its third commemorative bottle honoring the civil rights leader and benefitting HMF. Numbered limited edition bottles hit shelves in May, just in time for his birthday.

HMF, which is based in South Florida, is planning the return of their annual gala this autumn with details coming soon. To learn more about Milk, the gala, and the foundation, go to their website

“Harvey was all about visibility and coming out because he saw the bigger picture that when everybody came out,” Richter said. “Everybody would see that we’re just like everyone else.”