Actors were paid to pretend to be gay in 2008’s Sydney Mardi Gras, it has been claimed.

According to the Scavenger, at least six actors were hired by furniture company IKEA to join its float.

An email leaked to the website said that the actors were not required to be gay, but simply had to have “a sense of fun”, “the ability to act like you have water in a hot tub when you don’t” and “the ability to be adored”. They were paid $300 AUS each for their work.

Sydney Mardi Gras, which is to be held over the next two weeks, has recently been attacked for becoming too corporate.

Gay rights activist Rodney Croome accused it of “censorship” motivated by money when he was barred from distributing an LGBT visitor’s guide to Tasmania due to New Mardi Gras’ sponsorships deals, while SX journalist Peter Hackney, who reported the latest claims, argued that it no longer represented the gay community.

Earlier this month, a gay animal liberation group was told it could not have a float in the parade, apparently because it was “not queer enough“.

The latest revelation about IKEA hiring actors was defended by a Mardi Gras spokesman, who suggested that other firms may have done the same thing.

He said that while festival organisers New Mardi Gras (NMG) did not know that Ikea had hired actors, “it would be unusual for a corporate entry, such as IKEA, to rely on volunteers to show up when they put so much money into the event”.

An IKEA spokeswoman said that the firm was no longer involved with Mardi Gras. She added: “We handed it over to an events group who organised the float, and we are not sure if they hired a few actors or not. But we did have 75 of our own co-workers on the float.”

The float was organised by The Eventing Edge and its director confirmed to the Scavenger that actors had been hired.

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

“A lot of corporate floats do it,” he added.

Gay rights activist and marcher in the first Mardi Gras parade Gary Burns called on the NMG board to resign.

He said: “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.

“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, the alter ego of drag queen Vanessa Wagner, agreed.

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