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Fresh Mardi Gras scandal: actors paid to march in Parade

Fresh from allegations that it is putting corporate alliances ahead of community interests, the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras is embroiled in yet another scandal, with revelations that actors have been paid to pose as genuine participants in the annual community parade, writes Peter Hackney.

The Scavenger has learned that at least six actors – who were not required to be gay or lesbian, or have any community affiliations – were paid hundreds of dollars each to participate in the IKEA float during the 2008 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Parade.

The Eventing Edge, a Sydney-based events and marketing firm, was responsible for finding the performers, according to an email from the company leaked to The Scavenger.

“IKEA is once again supporting the Mardi Gras this year with a great winter wonderland inspired float and are looking for six actors to fill key talent roles in the Scandinavian hot tub,” said the email.

Various requirements were listed, including “a sense of fun”, “ability to act like you have water in a hot tub when you don’t” and “ability to be adored”.

“Costume will be minimal – i.e. towel and Scandinavian blond wig – and shiny glittery stuff,” said the message, which invited actors to a casting call in Rushcutters Bay.

Successful candidates received “remuneration” of $300 each for their “services”.

Eddie Yacoubian, director of The Eventing Edge, confirmed the arrangement when contacted by The Scavenger.

“Yes, we were contracted to find performers for the IKEA float,” he said. “It was just paying people to have fun and promote the brand, there was nothing sinister about it.”

Yacoubian said that while actors were used to “pad out” the IKEA entry, the majority of participants were “probably” community members.

“There were about 60 people attached to the float and most of them would probably be genuine gay and lesbian community members,” he said. “The performers were just peppered among them to make it more exciting."

“A lot of corporate floats do it,” he added, raising the spectre that many more parade participants could be paid performers.

Yacoubian said his company had not procured performers for the parade since 2008, and was unsure what arrangements IKEA had this year.

“We don’t have that account anymore, I don’t know what happens now,” he said.

Asked if New Mardi Gras (NMG) – the company that runs the annual Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras – was aware of the arrangements, he replied, “Yes, of course.”

IKEA had a somewhat different take on the matter when contacted by The Scavenger.

A spokesperson for the furniture conglomerate was unsure about arrangements for the 2008 float because the personnel involved were “no longer with the company” – but said the company had not paid any performers.

“Eventing Edge was engaged to organise the construction and staging of the float in the parade and any extra people hired by them would have been paid by them,” said the spokesperson.

“In 2008, 75 IKEA co-workers from around the world were involved in the parade … so we can't really work out what any paid actors would have been doing.”

The spokesperson said IKEA had decided not to take part in this year’s parade, and would instead play a “behind the scenes” sponsorship role.

The news that performers have been paid to take part in Mardi Gras has outraged queer and queer-friendly members of Animal Liberation NSW (ALNSW), who have been refused entry in this year’s parade.

As first reported by The Scavenger, ALNSW’s ‘Sydney Queers for Animal Rights’ float was banned by NMG this year, despite the group taking part in previous years.

NMG’s reason included “space limitations” and claims that ALNSW were “not queer enough”.

That people were paid to be in the parade made a mockery of the excuses, said ALNSW spokesperson Lynda Stoner.

“We’re ‘not queer enough’ but people … who are there to promote corporations are allowed and they get paid for it?” she asked incredulously.

“You’ve got people whose hearts are busting to be part of it, but they can’t, so to hear this is just shocking.”

Stoner appealed to NMG to get back to its roots instead of pandering to corporations.

“Its roots are not about corporations but about inclusion and being open, and being reasonable,” she told The Scavenger.

Noted gay activist and marcher in the first Mardi Gras Parade, Gary Burns, agreed.

“I was there at the first Mardi Gras on that cold night in June 1978 and I can tell you, we did not march so that performers could get paid to dance up Oxford Street, pretending they’re part of our community,” he said.

“These corporate allegiances are not benefiting our community, they’re hurting us. Lots of gay and lesbian people care about animals, lots of them have pets, and they’re being excluded and that’s wrong.”

Burns went on to call for the current NMG Board to resign.

“Mardi Gras has lost its mojo. The people running Mardi Gras … don’t seem to know what it is or who it’s for. They should resign.”

Tobin Saunders, longtime parade commentator and alter ego of iconic drag queen Vanessa Wagner, expressed similar sentiments.

“The Howard years have obviously had more impact than I thought when people are employed to be in our parade while queer people are excluded” he said.

“It’s just dreadful. I’m sure ’78ers who are no longer with us would be spinning in their graves.”

The latest Mardi Gras scandal comes on the back of several others that have generated bad publicity for the festival on a global scale.

Last May, it was announced that the parade and party – traditionally held on the same night – would be held a week apart this year.

Some have claimed the parade was moved to accommodate a gay cruise company sponsoring the festival, Atlantis Events, although NMG blamed it on an “administrative error”.

Earlier this month, the banning of the ALNSW float created world headlines, as did subsequent news that a publication by Australian gay rights hero Rodney Croome was banned from this weekend’s Mardi Gras Fair Day.

Croome’s Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Visitors’ Guide was banned because of a corporate deal between NMG and Events NSW, which forbids any materials that promote interstate destinations at Mardi Gras.

NMG did not reply to questions from The Scavenger.

SEE ALSO: The corporatisation of Mardi Gras & queer media censorship

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0 #24 shayne chester 2010-02-21 17:46
Maybe the point is that 'gay' as a social construct has become redundant. If that is so, we could at least be honest about it, instead of pretending this gblqt-look alike parade cum advertainment still represents 'community.' I think it's the hypocrisy that is pissing everyone off.

I remember to get tickets to the after party you had to be referred by a Mardi Gras member, to keep the party pretty much a glbqt event. Then the 'sell a ticket to anyone to make a buck' crew took over and I just can't be fucked with it anymore.

I remember marshalling traffic control at the end of parade one year and listening in all night on the walkiie talkie to the massive concerted effort of volunteers in myriad roles - 'crowd surging barriers, police required at southern end of Flinders Street,' 'ambulance to Moore park entrance,' 'float broken down send tow truck' etc, that all went to make it the Night of Your Life. THAT made me proud. Queers working together for that strange and often abused concept of We Are Family. No one was told they didn't belong.
0 #23 Neil Stollz 2010-02-21 17:11
Here's another shock; the staff at NMG get paid too.
0 #22 All over nothing 2010-02-21 14:58
So I think the heading of this article had most sucked in that it was Mardi Gras who had done wrong.
Then it was IKEA who had paid people but in the end it was a marketing firm that hired people.
Shock horror.
I wonder how many other floats over the years have paid people to do work on their floats/drive the float etc.
Storm in a teacup and totally out of NMG hands at the time.
I am unsure re Linda Stoner and her gang. I first think they have gay members so let them march with their group
but can understand if numbers have to be cut and the question is asked what else do they do for the community ?
tough call by NMG and not a decision some would like.
0 #21 shayne chester 2010-02-21 04:22
" I wonder who has it wrong ? "

I think right and wrong are not variables to be converted by popular opinion. I think to post anything I'd not not sign my name to is wrong because such words lack courage and character. I think to see corruption, manipulation and exploitation in our AIDS advocates and say or do nothing is wrong and I am dialoguing with the minister about that ( I think to see elements of our community disenfranchised by those who see it as a commodity to be owned is wrong and my participating in the Mardi Gras festival would be complicit to that, so I withdrew. I think that our gay media stonewalling comment at the behest of their advertising paymasters is wrong and I no longer engage with them but I am taking the stories to international media who are interested in the truth.

I agree with Confucius, "To know what is right and not do it is the worst cowardice." To effect change in an unscrupulous world, the first step is to ensure scrupulous honesty in ourselves, so far as we can.

And I think we could ask ourselves whether crawling the internet anonymously with more incarnations than Dr. Who is really the best we could do with our lives. And I think that it's a nice goal to hope that we leave this community a stronger and healthier one when we go. And to just do our best, whatever that may be.

Sometimes I look at this community and think we haven't progressed much from those primordial swamp things, climbing over each other for some position of advantage and I think we deserve better.

But that's just my rhetoric, I could be wrong.
0 #20 Katrina Fox 2010-02-21 01:57
@The Truth please: The facts in the above article are correct. It states that actors were paid to take part in the 2008 Ikea float. It states clearly that they were hired by the PR company engaged by Ikea to do this and the PR firm spokesperson confirms it. It does not say Ikea paid the actors directly and contains a quote from Ikea to this effect. It also says in the piece that Ikea is not in the parade in 2010. So I'm not sure what information you are referring to as being incorrect or needing to be checked.

Katrina Fox
The Scavenger
0 #19 ? 2010-02-21 01:46
Oh no Shayne , Colin and Gary are real people but funny how its the same names going from forum to forum.

So you banned SSO and now SX News. My you are against all the established gay Orgs. I wonder who has it wrong ?

As for the Corporate side well lets not argue. Some are against it and others for it.

So I wonder how long you will last on here ?

I was wondering why hadnt read much from you on SX lately.
0 #18 shayne chester 2010-02-21 00:33
I hope you're not sugesting I'm Gary Burns again, 'Same names' - how insultment. I only have one name - one more than you, apparently. I hope you're not expecting me to apologise for others agreeing with me.

Btw., I don't read SX anymore, even my pussy can't find much in it when I line his litter tray with it. Corporatisation of queer media has left us with no viable gay papers in this town.

And speaking of corporatisation , 'The truth please,' I'm finding it hard to be convinced by an American site's take on capitalism and community: " it such a terrible thing that a corporation might have put out a casting call for good looking "actors" instead of trying to secure actual LGBTs to take part in its float?...capita lism rules, and if parades are about demanding and showcasing equality, then welcome to the big leagues, where our attention and consumerism is sold to the highest bidder... why not celebrate the fact that IKEA is spending money to court our very desirable community? Or that gay pride parades are, in fact, inclusive events..." except, of course, for banning a queer animal rights group for not being queer enough...or the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Visitors' Guide

... which is why I took a stand and withdrew from the Festival.
0 #17 Same names 2010-02-20 23:45
Peter Jackson / Shayne/ Colin/Gary/Adrian

go over to SX ( thats where I came from Shayne ) and search the posts and find the same names backing each other up on every thread.

You'd think they would come up with other names instead of using the same ones over and over.

So seems Ikea not marching so no meowing over the animal libbers being excluded and straight floats staying eh.
0 #16 The truth please 2010-02-20 23:41

have a read of this site my dears.

Would scavenger care to explain this -

Back in Sydney, IKEA says it did not pay actors to take part in the parade in 2008. It will also not be a part of the 2010 parade, but will have a "behind the scenes" sponsorship role.

Seems someone should get their information checked before starting a witch hunt.

Big fail on all the those up in arms over a lie.
0 #15 Peter Jackson 2010-02-19 22:09
"Point is the company does a lot for same sex couples. As you are now trying to ride the coat tails of the Animal Libbers, tell us all what they do for the community other than march once a year ?"

Puh-lease. The AL's aren't doig it for $$$ as Ikea are. They are also queer as the paid Ikea actors are not.

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