An Eagle Scout himself, Mark Johnston of Mount Washington was devastated when he came out as gay and was forbidden from attending his young sons' scouting events.
His dad stood by him as he received his Eagle rank, but Mr. Johnston, 45, says he just doesn't know if he'll be welcome to do the same for his son's ceremony, though he would love to be involved.
The Boy Scouts of America took a "step in the right direction" Thursday, he said, when it voted to put an end to the rule that kept openly gay youth out of its ranks.
"When we get to the point when we're no longer limiting children's rights to be a part of a phenomenal organization because of who they are -- it's fantastic," said Mr. Johnston, who was volunteering at a Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh event, Xtreme Bingo, Thursday evening.
Of about 1,400 voting members on the Scouts' National Council, 61 percent voted to do just that at the annual meeting held in Texas, though the ban on gay leaders stands.
As of Jan. 1, the membership standard will include the line, "No youth may be denied membership in the Boy Scouts of America on the basis of sexual orientation or preference alone."
After announcing the vote, the Scouts said the resolution underlines that as a youth program, any sexual conduct -- heterosexual or homosexual -- goes against its values.
"While people have different opinions about this policy, we can all agree that kids are better off when they are in scouting," it added.
Jim Sheppard, 26, of Brookline spent years as a Cub and Boy Scout and is now a board member for the Delta Foundation.
"I think scouting was one of the best experiences of my life. It taught me a sense of responsibility to my community," he said, adding that he wasn't openly gay when he was a Scout.
Mr. Johnston said all children should be given the opportunity to learn to give back.
"I think Scouts is about learning responsibility and civic duty regardless of sexual orientation," he said.
Some warn that the membership policy could split the organization, leading to an exodus of members and donors, and that debate is far from over.
Liberal leaders who supported the inclusion of gay youth say it isn't enough, and that the ban on gay adults also must be lifted.
"I'm so proud of how far we've come, but until there's a place for everyone in scouting, my work will continue," Jennifer Tyrrell told The Associated Press. Her ouster as a Cub Scout den leader in Ohio because she is lesbian launched a national protest.
For an organization that shapes young leaders, the vote shows progress, said Delta Foundation of Pittsburgh president Gary Van Horn.
A former Scout, Mr. Van Horn, 34, of Shadyside, said he worries that the group is training young men regardless of sexual orientation, only to abandon gay Scouts when they become adults. A gay Eagle Scout couldn't go on to be a gay leader, he said, which sends the message, "Oh sorry, you're gay. You can't help us anymore."
Meanwhile, some Scouts in the conservative camp -- including some churches that sponsor Scout units -- threatened to defect if the ban were removed.
Of more than 100,000 scouting units in the U.S., 70 percent are chartered by religious institutions.
Among the largest sponsors are relatively conservative denominations that have previously supported the ban, such as the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Southern Baptist churches.
"We are deeply saddened," said Frank Page, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's executive committee, told The Associated Press. "Homosexual behavior is incompatible with the principles enshrined in the Scout oath and Scout law."
In the past, local organizations had declared that they would pull support if the ban on gay leaders were lifted, said Eric Frey, a committee member with Troop 373 in Shadyside, which is sponsored by Sacred Heart Parish. He was previously a scoutmaster, and his three sons have been members of the troop.
"My only wonder is what the general reaction will be of the organizations that sponsor Scouts," he said. "I hope that none of those organizations throw out all of the good that is scouting because of concerns" with the membership policy.
The Boy Scouts of America said there are "no plans for further review on this matter," indicating that the ban on gay adults will not be addressed anytime soon.
"The Boy Scouts of America will not sacrifice its mission, or the youth served by the movement, by allowing the organization to be consumed by a single, divisive and unresolved societal issue," the organization said in a statement after it announced Thursday's vote.
Lexi Belculfine: email@example.com, 412-263-1878, or Twitter: @LexiBelc. The Associated Press contributed.