More than 3/4ths of gay men and lesbians who wanted to change through sexual reorientation therapies "satisfied the criteria for good heterosexual functioning." That is the conclusion of Robert Spitzer, the Columbia University psychologist who led the movement to delist homosexuality as a psychological disorder, an expert who no one would call a homophobe. Michelle Wolkomir, in Be Not Deceived, does not have a comparable study of the specific ex-gay ministry she studied, but the director estimated that perhaps a third gave up and returned to homosexual activity.
75%-plus seems like a pretty good success rate to me. Yet until reading this study, I had seen the routine summary that sexual reorientation or reparation therapies and ministries work with only a small percentage of people.
I think the gap between these two assessments depends on whether the aim of such programs is to change gays' and lesbians' orientation, or to help them get control of their behavior. Spitzer reports that for gay men, only 11% reported that they had changed their orientation, while 37% of the women changed theirs. However, an additional 66% of the men, and 44% of the women were functioning well as heterosexuals.
So, what is the right measure of success – changed orientation, or changed behavior?
The analogy that occurs to me is Alcoholics Anonymous. They do not aim to help people stop desiring alcohol. No matter how many days or years a member has been sober, they still introduce themselves as, "Hello, my name is Bill, and I am an alcoholic." Success for AA is helping people stop drinking.
Groups like "Expell," the ex-gay ministry that Wolkomir studied, are for people who are trying to resist temptations that they don't want to give in to. If most of them succeed in reaching that goal, that would seem like a successful ministry to me.