‘We will not be held to ransom’: Tie campaign pull out of Icon Awards over demands that they pay to attend ceremony


Icon Awards board member resigns over lack of responses to “legitimate questions”

THE FOUNDERS of the Time for Inclusive Education (Tie) campaign have withdrawn from this year’s upcoming Icon Awards, billed as a celebration of the LGBT+ community, after disagreements stemming from Icon’s requirement that those nominated for the 2018 awards pay to attend the ceremony on 15 September in Glasgow.

Yesterday [26 July], Tie co-founder Liam Stevenson publicly requested that the Icon Awards remove him from this year’s shortlist, describing it as “outrageous” that those nominated were being charged £45 to attend. He also questioned whether high-profile attendees including First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and singer Annie Lennox would also be charged such a fee. In a separate post, Stevenson added that, should an attendee wish to bring a guest, the fee would increase to £135.



The controversy intensified when the Icon Awards responded to Stevenson from their Twitter account, saying: “Also, I believe we have a photo of you receiving a cheque for £1000 for the TIE campaign last year,” presumably referring to the Tie campaign’s previous acceptance of an Icon award.

When Stevenson replied that this was prize money and questioned what their point was, the Icon Awards continued: “Can you enlighten us as to which prize you won? On our records, and on the Instagram post it states ‘grant donation’, which you happily accepted.”

NUS Scotland president Liam McCabe commented on Twitter: “Are @tiecampaign not supposed to criticise @TheIconAwards because of previous prize money? Were they expected to budget for an unforeseeable/unreasonable change?”



Reacting to Stevenson’s official post, Scottish lawyer and former Icon Awards judge Aamer Anwar said on Twitter that in 2017, “the condition adopted by us as judges and Icon was that charity groups and nominees could attend free and big companies paid – otherwise it became just another commercial profit event – please confirm you will remove charges.”



The scale of the dispute widened later that evening, when Icon Awards board member Professor Craig White announced his resignation from the board, writing in a public statement: “Following reflection over the past 48 hours, I’ve decided to tender my resignation from the Board.

“I’ve not felt comfortable with the lack of timely, respectful and robust public responses to the legitimate questions posed this week. A significant proportion of my public service role is on how organisations need to respond transparently to concerns. I don’t want to risk any perception that I’ve been recommending the current approach to communications management.

“I have the utmost respect for everyone who has been nominated as a finalist and all they do to promote and support diversity across Scotland.”



Speaking to CommonSpace, Tie co-founders Stevenson and Jordan Daly offered a joint-statement on the matter, saying: “There have been a few issues with the Icon Awards this year, including Stonewall’s unanswered questions regarding who is behind the event, but fundamentally we did not believe that it was acceptable to expect nominated volunteers and young people to pay in order to attend a ceremony which intends on recognising their contributions.”

The statement refers to the fact that the LGBT+ charity Stonewall Scotland pulled out of the Icon Awards after it was reported in Pink News that Warren Paul, the CEO of Paramount Creative which stages the Icon Awards, was involved in a homophobic discrimination case in 2007, in which a tribunal heard that Paul allegedly referred to a gay employee as a “wee poof”, said he resembled a “cream puff” and asked if he was “from Stone on Trent”, commonly understood as being rhyming slang for ‘bent’.

As a result, Paramount Creative was ordered to make what Pink News described as “one of the largest payouts in British history” – reported as £118,000 – to the employee in question, while Paul was criticised for “overtly abusing and humiliating him on the grounds of his sexual orientation.”



On 22 July this year, Stonewall Scotland director Colin Macfarlane asked the Icon Awards via Twitter: “I see you still work with Paramount Creative. Is Warren Paul still involved?”

These concerns were echoed by Equality Network manager and human rights campaigner Scott Cuthbertson, who confirmed earlier today that he was unable to accept his nomination in this year’s awards, saying in a public statement: “It is very unclear who owns the Icon Awards and where all the profits go.

“Despite questions being asked by some, no answers have been forthcoming about the current relationship between Icon, Paramount Creative and Mr Paul. The Awards are now held by ‘Big Impact Scotland’, a charity which names Mr Paul’s wife as a director.”

Referring to the controversy over the lack of free tickets for the awards ceremony, Cuthbertson said that this had led to “some rightly questioning the profit motive of the event, and where those profits are going. The lack of clarity and poor response to questions has confirmed to me that I cannot be a part of these awards.”

READ MORE: Holyrood marks third anniversary of the TIE campaign with rainbow ties in the chamber and a commitment to inclusive education

Daly and Stevenson continued: “We cannot support an event within the community which does not appear to put the interests of the community first.

“The response that we received after raising this issue was incredibly disappointing. When we won at the Awards last year, we were given a donation as part of the Award – to help us with our education based services. As we receive no regular funding, this donation has been kept aside to securely fund our upcoming teacher training in Glasgow this September, but following our criticism Icon saw fit to publicly remind us that they had a photograph of us accepting this donation last year.

“We’re unsure why this was raised in such a manner and can only suspect that it was thinly veiled, and therefore we have written to the organisers of the Icon Awards to request details as to how we can return the donation. We will not be held to ransom over legitimate criticism nor used as a means of deflection. 

“We will fill in the loss elsewhere and our teacher training event will go ahead as planned.”

“We cannot support an event within the community which does not appear to put the interests of the community first.” Tie campaign co-founders Liam Stevenson and Jordan Daly

“It still costs £90 per ticket for friends or family of finalists, and we will be requesting that in returning our donation, a block of extra tickets be made available for those in the volunteering and youth categories.”

In a public statement posted on social media, James Smith, the president of the Icon Awards, apologised for “all misguided tweets that were sent out in regards to grants/prizes awarded to charities last year as well as individual attendees.” While Smith highlights the fact that he was not responsible for the tweets, he accepts that as president, “the buck lands with me and I wholeheartedly apologise for this error in judgement.”



Smith further announced that, in response to the widespread criticism, the Icon board has decided to give one free ticket to all finalists, and that the “recognised charity groups (not for profit)” can purchase any additional tickets at half price. No reference was made to public queries regarding the financial arrangements of the Icon Awards itself, or the involvement of Paramount Creative.

The Icon Awards did not respond to queries from CommonSpace on these matters. Daly confirmed on Twitter that, despite the awards’ response, he would still not be attending.

Picture courtesy of Craig Paterson