Boycotts of destinations that are hostile to the LGBTQ+ community are not the answer to the problem, warned a campaigner who helps persecuted people to escape to safer countries.

Kimahli Powell, executive director of Rainbow Railroad, was speaking at the annual convention of IGLTA, the International LGBTQ+ Travel Association, in New York when he made his plea.

He said homosexuality is illegal in 70 countries around the world and attracts the death penalty in nine.

Recent headlines about the death penalty in Brunei have prompted high-profile calls for boycotts but Powell said: “Boycotts are not the answer.

“Instead, listen to the people affected.”

He cited the example of Jamaica where many people work in the tourism industry so a boycott could “take money away from those who need it”.

He urged delegates instead to lobby airlines not to prevent people boarding flights or to be complicit in discrimination.

His charity helps LGBTQ+ people to escape to countries where they will be safer, and he said: “A plane ticket issued quickly can mean the difference between life and death.”

The Canadian-based charity has helped almost 700 people since it was founded in 2006 but already this year it has had 800 requests for help.

The pleas came from countries such as Jamaica, Egypt, Uganda, Syria, Iran, Pakistan, Nigeria, Tanzania and Morocco.

The convention heard the story of one Egyptian who had waved a rainbow flag at a music concert in Cairo.

He had been arrested and beaten but the charity helped him to escape to Toronto where he can live safely.

The conference also heard from transgender campaigner Nisha Ayub, director of Seed Foundation, who spoke by Skype from Malaysia about the work being done there to support trans people.