Dr. Fisher and Mr. Hyde

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The controversy over Fisher has divided Phoenix's gay community, with lines being drawn between the two different versions of events surrounding Fisher.

HeatStroke, a newspaper serving the gay community, broke the story of the BOMEX investigation and has followed it. But the coverage has cost the fledgling paper some support.

One of the distributors, Unique on Central, a gift store, banned the paper from its premises, and letters to the editor in the paper and in Echo have attacked Fisher's accusers.

Doug Klinge, the owner of Unique on Central, declined to comment for this article, but in a letter to the editors of HeatStroke, he explained his decision.

"I find it disgusting and confusing that a paper with intention to inform the community would talk such noninvestigated reporting," he wrote. "This business matter should have been kept confidential about Dr. Fisher until the facts were in and the case was closed."

Kelly Reidhead, HeatStroke's managing editor and the reporter who's written the Fisher articles, admits it was a risky move to cover the inquiry.

"I think the gay community is still at the place where any criticism is seen as a betrayal, and that's unfortunate," Reidhead says.

Reidhead says his articles--which are, for the most part, flat news pieces about BOMEX's actions--aren't meant to malign Fisher, but simply air the issue.

"You never mature as a community unless you can criticize yourself," Reidhead says.

Others see the articles about the charges--as well as the charges themselves--as an attempt to destroy a good doctor and his patients.

"Why didn't anyone who felt uncomfortable or abused confront Dr. Fisher immediately and then seek out a new doctor? Why are they so self-centered not to realize all the other people they would hurt by these allegations?" one person wrote in a letter to the editor in Echo. "I had no doctor to treat my HIV and other problems for far too many months this year already."

Jeff Ofstedahl, Echo's editor, doesn't disagree with HeatStroke's decision to cover the story. He wrote an editorial condemning the censorship of the store which banned the paper. But Echo has also run only one article on the actual charges--a column featuring an interview with Fisher after the story first appeared in HeatStroke. The column contains few specifics, and presents Fisher's only public response to the investigation.

Ofstedahl says he wants Fisher to keep practicing medicine. He says that if Fisher has crossed the line, there will have to be consequences, but he doesn't think his license should be revoked.

"Dr. Fisher has given an awful lot to this community. He's given his life and his work to this damned disease," Ofstedahl says. "I would hate to see all of the dedication get lost in all of this. We could still honor the commitment that this man has made to the community . . . without losing sight of other things."

Others agree. Arcelious Stephens, a board member of the Arizona AIDS project, says losing Fisher would be a "significant loss to the HIV/AIDS community.

"He doesn't need the negative publicity, and the community doesn't need the negative publicity," Stephens says. "I hope he can get this behind him and get his issues settled, because we need physicians to deal with this epidemic."

Fisher's accusers don't question his skill or his long history of serving AIDS patients. But Tory Mastrapasqua doesn't think Fisher should still be practicing.

"I think as a patient you just hand over your trust, and it absolutely doesn't deserve to be violated in any way," he says.

Another of Fisher's accusers puts it this way: "He's a doctor that needs to be in recovery, rather than practicing."

The public debate about Fisher is drawn in black-and-white lines, and reality, unfortunately, is never that simple. There is never just one side to any person. As Jeff Ofstedahl says, "In my opinion, he is a hero in our community, yes. But he's also a human being."

In the end, it's up to BOMEX to reconcile the hero and the human. And Ken Fisher is the only one who can answer for himself.

In his interview with Echo, Fisher says that he had a compulsion to work, and that his anger "got out of control." But he says he has been learning, through therapy, "to live my life in a healthy way."

"I hope to be able to show the community who I can be--who I truly am."

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Chris Farnsworth